Reaper Part 7: Using the MIDI Editor

G.W. Childs is back again with some more Reaper 4 goodness! In this article he shares some awesome MIDI editing tricks that all you'll want to incorporate into your workflow.  

While I've always been a keyboard player and pianist, I'll have to make a bit of an admission: I really like MIDI editors!

I love jumping in and drawing notes, modifying velocities, copying, pasting and creating new possibilities with my eyes and ears that my hands may have never thought of! 

Drum beats are particularly fun! I tend to start off with some trippy little bass line, and then, on a separate track, I'll start drawing in my kick drum, snare drum. The parts I particularly love are when I get to start drawing in hi-hats. I'll switch out my snap settings from 16th to 32nd notes, and throw in some intricacy. 

I've found Reaper to have a formidable MIDI editor. The more I play around with it, the more I learn new tricks, techniques, key commands, etc. There are tons of little pieces of polish all over the place, splashed with tons of options for customization to the way that you (and I) work!

In this article, I'd like to go over some tips, tricks and functions of the MIDI Editor within Reaper 4.

Tip 1 - Where's Marquee Select?

If you're like me, one command that I have to have is Marquee select. This is especially true when I'm editing drums, because I want to be able to select a set of notes, and then   copy them around to other bars, etc. It speeds things up immensely. 

When I first started working with the Reaper MIDI editor, I was flabbergasted to discover that I was unable to do a Marquee select by holding down Shift and dragging like most other MIDI editors (Reason, for example).

Thankfully, not only did I write an article for setting up Mouse Modifiers but I also read the article. 

Let me show you how easy this is to set up!

Step 1 - Be in a MIDI Editor

This first suggestion may sound inane, but the menus at the top show different items based on what screen you're currently in. If I'm in the MIDI editor, when I go under the Options menu, I'll have the option to select MIDI editor mouse modifiers...

MIDI Editor Mouse modifiers

Once I'm inside the menu, I can select a mouse modifier (keyboard command toggle) that I can hold down when I want to trigger a specific function. 

Note: It's important to know that the Mouse Modifier page in Reaper Preferences will show different Modifier options based on your last action. Sometimes this can be a little persnickety. Make sure that you see 'Left Drag' at the top, next to the Context drop-down menu for this exercise to work!

Step 2 - Choose a Modifier Button

As you can see, I have a few buttons available for additional mouse modifiers. I'll choose the Command key on its own, because Shift by itself is not available. I could change this, but I'm going to see what the guys at Cockos came up with first, before I say: “No, this is how it should be!”

Choose a modifier

Step 3 - Assign the Modifier

Now, if I click in the empty lane next to the Command key, a contextual menu appears that has multiple items available. There's a ton of goodness I intend to explore later but for now, let's go with the bare necessities. 

Assign the modifier

I'll choose Marquee Select > Just select

Step 4 - Try it Out!

Now that I'm set up with my Marquee select modifier, I want to give it a go: I'll hit the Apply button, and then the OK button at the bottom of the MIDI Editor > Mouse Modifier page, and return to the regular, old MIDI editor. 

MIDI Editor > Mouse Modifier

Now, when I hold down the Command key and drag my mouse, I get a beautiful marquee square that appears. I can use this square to select multiple notes till I'm blue in the face!

The Marquee selection

Hopefully, you find this tip as helpful as I did! I felt lost without this function, but thankfully Reaper is soooo customizable.

Tip 2 - Paint

Any program that has a paint function in it is OK by me! To refresh your memory, paint is where you can simply drag your mouse along while holding your left mouse button along the note editor and just start drawing in multiple notes!

By default, Reaper does have the Paint function available in the MIDI Note Editor by holding down Command-Option. To be specific, you are allowed to paint vertically and horizontally with this particular set of modifiers. 

Painting by default

Shift-Option allows you paint without Snap, which can be as cool or horrific as you want it to be. 

Paint without snap

I would strongly encourage the experimentation of either, or both, of these particular modifiers because they make hi-hats extremely dreamy, especially when you modify the snap settings after drawing in a line of sixteen notes...

Dreamy hi-hats

Then, modify your snap settings to 32nd Notes....

Snap settings

Scale your notes back to 32nd notes size....

Scaled notes to 32nds

Now you can draw in a 32nd note flam anywhere you like within this roll of 16th notes playing in a 32nd note grid!

Draw in a flam

This isn't a new trick for anyone, but I found that Reaper really does provide an eloquent way of drawing in one grid, and then allowing you to modify your work in one grid, quickly and easily within another grid setting. Kudos to Cockos on this one. 

Make sure and check out the Mouse Modifiers for paint, too! There are additional modifiers there that can really customize this workflow.

Tip 3 - Zoom Functions

I thought I'd shore things up with one more nice little quick tip for Macbook users! If you're using a Mighty Mouse, these still apply:

  • Two fingers forward in the MIDI editor is Zoom in
Two Fingers backwards is Zoom out
  • Two fingers left, or right is pan right, or left in the MIDI, or Arrange window
  • Shift-Command Two Fingers up or down is scroll up and down
  • Command- Two fingers up and down is widen grid horizontally.


And there you go: a small bag of goodies to brighten your MIDI editing experience. In the next tutorial, we're going to get into song arrangement in Reaper.

Sound Designer, Musician, Author... G.W. Childs has worn many hats. Beginning in the U.S. Army back in 1991, at the age of 18, G.W. began learning electronics, communications and then ultimately audio and video editing from the Department of Defense. Upon leaving the military G.W. went on to work for many exciting companies like Lu... Read More


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